President Donald Trump has been opining about his Article II powers under the Constitution. Most recently at a Turning Point USA conference said, “Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
He said this in the context of saying he had the ability to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller if he wanted.
This is not the first time to make such a claim about Article II, The Washington Post gathered a compilation of times he has mentioned Article II this month.
Let’s look at what Article II says about the presidency shall we?
In section 1 we read, “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
That’s pretty broad. In section 2 and 3 it outlines the President’s duties and powers:
- Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, but can’t declare war (that’s up to Congress – see Article I).
- Can convene a cabinet for advice on subjects related to the department each member of the cabinet oversees.
- Can grant reprieves and pardons, except in cases of impeachment by Congress.
- Make treaties, but two-thirds of the Senate must ratify them.
- Appoint “Ambassadors, other public Ministers and
Counsuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States” with the advice and consent of the Senate.
- Can appoint “inferior Officers” without Senate confirmation provided Congress allows for that by law.
- Can make recess appointments, but their terms expire at the end of the next session.
- Give Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend legislation.
- Call an emergency session of Congress and adjourn Congress.
- As head of state, the President can receive ambassadors and public ministers from other countries.
- As head of government, the President ensures the laws of the United States are faithfully executed.
- The president oversees the commission of military officers.
He can appoint, but the Senate has to confirm. He can sign a treaty, but the Senate has to ratify it in order for it to take effect. He can recommend legislation, but Congress has to pass it. He faithfully executes laws that Congress has passed. He can pardon people, but not anyone Congress has impeached.
So with the President’s power comes proper checks on that power.
Unlike what President Trump says, Article II does not give the President the authority to do “whatever they want.”
They do have broad executive power, but it is still within the boundaries that Congress sets because they authorize programs and departments, and they provide the appropriations to run those programs and departments.
Now we have seen executive power grow and has grown beyond what the framers intended because Congress has given the executive branch far too much rule making ability in its executive of laws Congress passes. Even so, there are limits.
I believe that President Trump could have fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He can fire anyone within the executive branch, but that does not mean decisions like those do not come with a political cost.
Section 4 says, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
“High Crimes and Misdemeanors” is not defined by the Constitution, but defined by Congress when they offer articles of impeachment and if you have read past articles of impeachment those “crimes” can be rather political.
So Trump could have fired Mueller, but Congress could also have decided to impeach him for it.
Had President Barack Obama said under Article II he could “do whatever I want,” Republicans would go ballistic and rightfully so.